Transparency International and its partner in Poland, the Stefan Batory Foundation, are calling on the government to consult more widely and revise proposed legislation on transparency in public life as in its current form it compromises citizens right to know, is a backdoor attack on civil society and threatens the protection of brave people who speak out about wrongdoing.
The proposed legislation, which was drafted by the office of the Minister for Special Services, is not based on best practice. The draft bill shifts the balance of power in any request for information to the institution that is the target of a request and severely limits the protection of whistleblowers in both the public and private sectors.
The government is also trying to rush through the legislation without the proper consultation period.
“This draft law reads like Orwellian doublespeak. It will damage people’s trust in government. In the name of transparency, it would force civil society to disclose an unreasonably high level of information about even small donors. If they fail to provide accurate information, they will automatically face criminal prosecution,” said Patricia Moreira, managing director of Transparency International. “But at the same time the draft law gives prosecutors the power to decide arbitrarily if people coming forward with damaging information deserve to be named ‘whistleblowers’ and protected.”
In addition, if someone or an organisation wanted to get information about a public institution and it made repeated requests, the government could maintain that the very act of asking was deemed ‘persistent’ and the request could be refused.
“This law creates the situation in which transparency can be used as a means of intimidation of citizens and gives the authorities far too much power to decide what information should be made public. The drafters should pay more attention to the criticisms and be more open to the dialogue. The Polish people need transparency, but they also need their civil rights protected not compromised,” said Grzegorz Makowski, director of the Public Integrity Program at Stefan Batory Foundation, Transparency International’s partner in Poland.
In the name of transparency, the new law would require all civil society organisations willing to participate in the legislative process to disclose, all donations above 500 EUR from both private persons and legal entities. It would also compel individuals to disclose a large amount of personal information going back two years and covering all their sources of income, including personal loans. Any omissions or inaccuracies could lead to criminal prosecutions.
“This is a backdoor way of intimidating civil society and should not be allowed,” added Moreira.
Civil society will be presenting its detailed analysis of the proposed legislation on 3 November for a meeting on 6 November that will only summarise opinions. This timetable severely limits the ability for a proper debate on an issue that is of such importance to the people of Poland. If the legislation is rushed through unchanged, Transparency International, the Stefan Batory Foundation and other Polish CSOs should call on the president to veto it until it is fit for purpose.
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